Economy & Tech
Women in Focus: How Yan Fan is Helping Japan Become a Software Leader
Code Chrysalis co-CEO Yan Fan is leading by example, pulling women into the world of technology and empowering them to make a difference in society.
International Women's Day is a celebration of the achievements of women around the world. It is a day to reaffirm our vision of a global community where gender no longer impedes people from reaching their full potential.
In our previous installments, we showcased Ayuko Hoshino, a Japanese scientist who is seeking to cure cancer, and Kyoko Takano, an educator who is experimenting with new ways to broaden the perspectives of students and families in international education.
- Women in Focus: Ayuko Hoshino, the Scientist on a Quest to Cure Cancer
- Women in Focus: Kyoko Takano, Teaching Japanese Culture As a Lens to the World
Our third profile is an entrepreneur, who is seeking to change the face of Japan's technology ecosystem. Yan Fan is the co-founder and co-CEO of the Tokyo-based coding bootcamp school, Code Chrysalis. Starting in 2017, led by Fan and co-CEO Kani Munidasa, the company has had one aim: to make Japan the world's software leader. And a key component of that includes empowering women in tech.
Fan is uniquely equipped to coordinate a coding bootcamp because she attended one herself when she was in need of new skills.
After graduating from Dartmouth University in the United States with a degree in Economics and Arabic in 2012, Fan realized that she was not committed to her chosen career path.
But she had big dreams. "This was the time when Airbnb, Uber, and all of these really disruptive companies were coming out of Silicon Valley [in California]," explains Fan. "That really captured my imagination, and I started thinking about setting up my own company."
She set her sights on changing her skill set and signed up at a coding bootcamp. Nowadays, there are hundreds of such courses around the world. And the sector is expected to grow to a whopping value of $3.66 billion USD by 2027. But at the time, these schools were still a rarity.
The impact of her newly acquired skills shocked Fan. As she puts it, "I was able to do a complete 180 in my career. I was amazed."
This prompted Fan to start a bootcamp in the Middle East in 2016 — at the height of the refugee crisis following the civil war in Syria. She taught Syrian refugees and women how to code.
Next Up: Japan
Just months after that Fan met her co-CEO, Kani Munidasa, who wanted to start a coding bootcamp in Japan. They kicked off Code Chrysalis in Tokyo in 2017.
The timing was key. According to a 2019 Survey by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Japan was expected to have a labor shortage of about 790,000 people in the IT sector by 2030.
Meanwhile, it can be cumbersome for large companies to find the necessary number of workers with the right skills. "Huge companies are not necessarily going to be able to hire them [technical workers] all from India or Vietnam, and they're not going to find enough of these people in the Japanese job market," explains Fan.
Therefore, Fan explains, the solution they envisioned is one of training existing workers towards the achievement of their full potential.
"When you have a company with anything between 40 and 10,000 people, there are going to be workers who have that [technical] ability. You already have your future CTO. You have your future software engineers. You just need to find them."
And that is what Code Chrysalis seeks to do. It has taught hundreds of individuals to reskill and achieve a career change. The startup also works with large companies to retrain current workers, sometimes with hundreds of people in one cohort.
"We think there are so many of the right ingredients in this country, and they're so close to just exploding in terms of innovation and growth. That's what we really want to help with," says Fan.
Opening Up Tech to Women
An important part of tapping into Japan's potential, Fan says, is bringing more women into the tech community. And through her work at Code Chrysalis, Fan is leading by example.
The company organizes inclusive events so that women feel welcome in the tech space. And the events provide useful entry points into the Science Technology Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) industry.
One example was a joint project with DevJapan. It involved a weekend meetup for developers, designers, engineers and related backgrounds in Tokyo.
Fan attended one of the events and noticed that there were very few women. Yet, the meetup page had many women signed up. Women appeared to be interested, but not coming to the event.
Therefore, Fan started organizing a women-only session before the main event. Participants could mingle and bring up questions or doubts in a safe space. "There were about 20 women who attended just the first meeting," recalls Fan.
Eventually, women felt comfortable attending the DevJapan event directly. And, Fan recounts, "I was really happy when that happened, because that was the whole point, to help them feel comfortable to join the main session."
In panel discussions, on the other hand, Fan is adamant that rather than having women-only events, women's participation in the main discussion should be normalized. Recently, Code Chrysalis hosted the event "Not Another All Male Panel" on the theme of diversity and inclusion (you can catch the full video of the event on YouTube).
In Code Chrysalis courses, the school is striving for 50% female representation. Currently it is sitting at the 25% mark, says Fan.
One Woman Can Empower Many
Ultimately, Fan says it's the stories of other empowered women that are the fuel for her motivation in her job.
She gives the example of LaShawn Toyoda. She was an English teacher with a newborn baby who decided to leave her job because she was uncomfortable teaching in person during the pandemic.
As she was trying to find her footing, Fan reached out to her, and asked her if she had ever considered coding. Toyoda successfully entered the full-time course, graduated, and found a job in tech.
In addition, Fan recalls, part of Toyoda's wish to initiate a career change was the desire to use her skills to help others. And Toyoda found her opportunity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was underway in Japan. But information was scarce — especially in foreign languages. Netizens would swap information on Twitter about which clinics were available for vaccinations, but there was no system to gather the information together.
Toyoda now had the skills to help. She set up a multilingual database called findadoc. Using this, foreigners could find information on where to obtain vaccinations, clinics that had cancellation policies for no-shows, and other information that answered basic questions. The website was an instant hit, with tens of thousands of users accessing the site. Volunteers pooled skills to translate the information and keep the database running.
Thanks to Toyoda's effort, many people were able to get vaccinated and move on in their daily lives. "Empowering this one person has been able to affect so many other people," remarks Fan.
The Way Ahead
Going forward, the Cody Chrysalis Co-CEO explains that far more hands-on action is needed for more women to realize their potential.
Like in the case of Toyoda, "We need to tap women on the shoulder and ask: have you thought about this?" says Fan.
More broadly, she sends a strong message to women. "I want women in Japan to understand that they have a lot of power," she explains. For example, women consumers have the power to demand better products when they do not address women's needs. She exhorts, "Educate yourself. Trust your gut."
Finally, Fan believes that empowering women in Japan will have an enormous impact on global society.
"Japan is the third largest economy in the world. If women are empowered here, it sends a message to the whole world."
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Author: Arielle Busetto
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